Baker continues family traditions with The County Bakery

2 years ago

MARS HILL, Maine — Rosemary Lavway has few memories of her grandmother Rose Willette from growing up in Presque Isle, but has kept her recipes alive through The County Bakery.

The bakery opened in Mars Hill next to Pineland Farms in August 2019, where owner and baker Lavway continues to make her grandmother’s traditional recipes.

The previous owners of the building allowed Lavway to start her business and then sold the property to her in 2021. She learned to bake from her grandmother Rose and mother, Ruth Willette, and after she married, her aunt, Lois James, taught her more tricks of the trade.

She works in her store 15 hours a day from Wednesday to Saturday to prepare baked goods, sandwiches and soups.

“The [Mars Hill] community has been so warming to us,” said Rosemary, who said the hours are long and days start very early in this business. “If you want to be successful you have to make sacrifices.”

From 1993 to 1997, Lavway owned and operated a seasonal restaurant called Rosie’s Stars and Stripes at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds in Presque Isle. She closed the restaurant in 1996 to spend more time raising her son.

She takes after her grandmother. In the 1940s, Rose Willette owned a diner on Main Street called Stars and Stripes Forever, but also went by the nickname Hamburger Haven for having the best burgers and homemade french fries around.  

Other than hamburgers, Rose was famous for her homemade doughnuts and chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting, which Rosemary still makes for The County Bakery.

As a woman in the 1940s, Rose was a rare entrepreneur whose business ventures included the diner, Star City Cabs, and a boarding home located on Winter Street in Presque Isle. Stars and Stripes Forever was open for around seven years during the 1940s, Lavway said.

She described her grandmother as a kind, yet stern woman who would feed people if they didn’t have enough money to eat. Lavway has heard stories around Presque Isle that all of her grandmother’s food was delicious, she said.

For nostalgia’s sake, she inserted the old name “Rosie” on The County Bakery as a way to attract her grandmother’s regular customers.

Lavway handles all the baking, including the doughnuts, pies, soups and breads. Her sandwiches include bacon, egg and cheese or her famous homemade chicken salad. She obtains ingredients at local grocery stores, and her potatoes come from Grass Family Farm in Mars Hill, she said.

One unique item she developed is a Bismarck wafer that is encased in a puff pastry with a homemade vanilla cream filling, but she cuts down the sugar to make it less sweet. She also makes a maple bacon doughnut that is more on the savory side than sweet.

Another item that you can’t get anywhere else but The County Bakery is the cherry almond doughnut that a customer suggested to Lavway. She combined her grandmother’s buttermilk doughnut recipe with cherries and almonds, and sells the doughnuts at the counter.

Lavway didn’t know her grandmother very well, since Rose died when she was just 11 years old. But she has a few mementos, including pictures of Rose behind the counter of Stars and Stripes Forever.

Lavway uses her grandmother’s recipes for buttermilk biscuits, buttermilk doughnuts and pie crusts. Her grandmother taught her how to make the biscuits fluffy using buttermilk, she said.

She has plans for The County Bakery, including an idea to convert the back room into a kitchen so she can expand her offerings with seafood dishes and vegetable baskets, an inspiration from her work at Winnie’s Dairy Bar when she was a young adult.

MARS HILL, Maine — December 21, 2022 — The County Bakery located at 125 Presque Isle Rd. in Mars Hill next to Pineland Farms, where customers have a unique range of breakfast and lunch items locally sourced from Aroostook County. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — December 27, 2022 — A photo of Rose Willette the owner of Star’s and Stripes Forever in Presque Isle taken in the 40s and known for her donuts, cakes, and hamburgers at the time. (Courtesy of Rosemary Lavway)

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — December 27, 2022 — A photo of Rosemary Lavway serving coffee inside Rosie’s Stars and Stripes in Presque Isle taken in 1993. (Courtesy of Rosemary Lavway)

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — December 27, 2022 — A photo of Rosemary Lavway’s father William Joseph Willette in Rosie’s Stars and Stripes in Presque Isle taken in 1993. (Courtesy of Rosemary Lavway)